Earthworm Jim 2D to 3D, What Went Wrong? – The Fifth Dimension Episode 1

Earthworm Jim was one of the most creative characters to come out of the big mascot craze of the 1990s. The game was a parody of all the cliches that were happening back then: a princess damsel in distress, a scary villain and of course a cool anthropomorphic animal protagonist. The game itself was developed by Shiny Entertainment, which in turn was comprised of ex-members of Virgin Interactive. They were famous for licensed games like The Terminator, Aladdin, The Jungle Book and Cool Spot. After having been creatively constrained by
working on these licensed properties, the team didn’t feel like being held back like
that again. So in collaboration with the toy company Playmates Toys they were finally able to create their own original IP. Apparently being stuck working on games based
on Disney movies makes you really creative, because the end result was unlike anything
people had seen up until that point: Earthworm Jim is a game about an Earthworm in a robot
suit that goes around the universe blasting aliens en saving Princess-What’s-Her-Name
from the Evil Queen Slug-For- A-Butt. Now, does that make sense? No, but in a sea of mediocre me-too copycat platformers that were around at the time, Earthworm Jim stood out in a positive
way. People noticed too. The game spawned a sequel, toys and even an
animated series that ran for two seasons. Where games like Bubsy and Battletoads failed,
Jim succeeded. He was actually able to break through and
come close to being a mainstream success. It seemed like the series would become a classic
franchise that we would still be talking about to this day. And while we are still talking about it now,
It’s for a different reason. Somewhere along the line Earthworm Jim lost
relevancy and dropped out of the public consciousness. I believe it was around 1999, when Earthworm
Jim made the jump to 3D. On this first episode of The Fifth Dimension we
are going to take a look at how exactly this game went so horribly wrong. How was the gameplay of Earthworm Jim translated from the second to the third dimension? Before we do that however, we have to examine
the original game. Earthworm Jim was released in 1994 for the
Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive. The game stars Jim of course, an earthworm who is in possession of a super suit that makes him really strong. Along with that he has a Plasma Blaster, a pocket-sized
Rocket and he can use his own head to whip things and hang on to objects. This isn’t particularly deep gameplay, but
it works. One of my favorite aspects about the original
Earthworm Jim is the sheer amount of variety the game offers. You don’t just run around blasting everything
in sight whilst occasionally encountering a boss. In one level you are riding your Pocket Rocket
through space while in another you are fighting a huge booger while bungee jumping in a canyon. Or how about guiding another character through
a level for fear of your own life? This is what elevates Earthworm Jim over what
could have been just another mediocre platformer. It just so happens that everything around
the gameplay is extremely solid too; the graphics, in part courtesy of animator Doug TenNapel,
are incredible. This was done by digitizing traditional ‘real’
animation pencil tests by scanning them and turning them in to sprites. Because of this Jim is very well animated
and is literally bursting with character. I´m serious, half of the game´s appeal comes
from how great the animations and the overall presentation is. For example: leaving Jim him alone for too
long will cause him to jump rope with his head or accidentally shoot himself in the
face. If you are more interested in this I highly
recommend checking out the documentary ‘Shiny Entertainment – Earthworm Jim “The Making
Of’’ on YouTube and visiting the fansite There’s a lot of information about the making of this game and it’s very interesting. But it’s not what this video is about. Anyway the whole thing feels like a crazy
game made by a bunch of guys who were finally let go and allowed to do their own thing. To me it is just an explosion of raw creativity
and it is one of those rare instances where the fun they had making the game actually
rubs off on you when you’re playing. That is not to say this game is perfect, because
it definitely has it’s flaws. For one thing Earthworm Jim is an incredibly
difficult game, made even worse by the fact that you only have a few continues. When they run out it is game over. Besides that I’m not a huge fan of Jim’s
controls. It’s not that the controls are bad, but
sometimes they feel just a bit too twitchy or responsive. Whipping things with your head doesn’t feel
as good as, say, a Castlevania game. Trying to swing across hooks feels really
finicky, especially later on in the game where you need to do this to survive. After a little practice you get used to it,
but it could have been better implemented. [music from the level ‘Snot a Problem’ playing] First of all, Earthworm Jim 3D wasn’t developed
by the original team at Shiny Entertainment. After they were bought out by publisher Interplay
the reigns were handed over to a different developer: VIS Entertainment. The result? Well, At first it seems like Jim’s moves
have been translated pretty well from 2D to 3D. Take his shooting for example. Even though people classify Earthworm Jim
as a ‘Run and gun’ game, in the original game there is no actual running and gunning. You can only shoot while standing still, in
almost every direction. At first this seems limiting, but Earthworm
Jim feels deliberately designed around this. Not once did I get the feeling that I was
being limited by these controls, they just made sense since levels in the game feel designed
around this type of gameplay. There are certain sections where there are
enemies coming from every direction, so being able to stand still while you shoot feels
like it has purpose. In Earthworm Jim 3D however, this makes no
sense at all. A lot of times you are confronted with multiple
shooting enemies at the same time. Not being able to run and shoot at the same
time or at least lock-on or circle strafe makes these enemy encounters needlessly difficult,
because you can only really focus on one enemy at a time. There are parts in the game where you get
surrounded by enemies from all around you, but you have no means to shoot them effectively. In the original Earthworm Jim there weren’t
that much shooting enemies, but here the game is full of them. This makes them not fun to fight and every
combat encounter is frustrating as a result. Not even to mention the godawful first person
aiming mode. Throughout the game you are walking around
Jim’s head, collecting Golden Udders. See, Jim had a cow drop on his head which
sent him into a coma. You are running around this subconscious trying
to save yourself from being lobotomized. This is a really cool concept. Keeping in mind the crazy world Jim lives
in, imagine the kind of weird stuff that can happen inside his mind. Sadly this never really amounts to much. In fact, it feels like an excuse to have a
generic hub world from which you can access the other levels in the game. Like many other games at the time Earthworm Jim 3D
is a ‘collect-a-thon’ platformer, where you need to collect a certain amount of them for
you to progress. I kept expecting them to do something new
or creative with this, or at least make fun of it. But no, it just plays this straight. To me this comes off as being incredibly uncreative. In contrast to the original which was like
a big lampshading of all the different clichés that were going on at the time. that was made to be hip and cool. It made the game stand out from the crowd. Earthworm Jim 3D just feels like a dime-a-dozen
3D platformer aping off other games while not really introducing anything new on it’s
own. It feels generic and uninspired. The biggest example of this is the part where
you need to escort Elvis after saving him from aliens. This plays out exactly like the level ‘For
Pete’s Sake’ in the original Earthworm Jim. Here you need to escort Peter Puppy through
a level, saving him from bottomless pits and enemies by whipping him to platforms and killing
the enemies. It was a tough, but somewhat fair level; if
Peter Puppy falls down a hole or gets hit you can try again, but it will take some of
your health away. It is a stressful, difficult level that feels
incredibly satisfying when you finally reach the end. This part in Earthworm Jim 3D is the complete
opposite of this: if Elvis gets hurt you need to go back to the beginning, whipping him
over a hole is so finicky that it’s nearly impossible all the while walking around a
tight corridor with an annoying camera and an Elvis that doesn’t know when to shut
his hole. “I’m the king, yeah” It is, in my opinion, the perfect contrast
between what does and does not work in 2D and 3D. This one sequence is just the perfect illustration
of what this entire game feels like to me: they carried over elements from the 2D games
without realising or thinking about how this would work in a three-dimensional environment. So even though this games sucks the proverbial
‘big one’, there are some positive things to be said. The voice acting done by Dan Castelanetta
of Homer Simpson fame, returning from the animated series, is actually pretty solid. Jim also has a lot of different guns to collect
in this game in every level, which is something that has great potential. Just like some of the other elements it doesn’t
amount to much, but its still a great original idea that they could have expanded upon. I mean the game has a literal pea shooter
in it. I can’t help it, that’s just funny to
me. Ultimately, the whole game feels uninspired
and poorly designed. Even though they tried to add the variety
of the original games, everything falls flat because it simply isn’t fun to play. They literally translated Jim’s moves from
the earlier games without seeming to think about how they would work in a 3D environment,
not knowing or caring enough to make them work. While I was playing I was constantly thinking
how this could have worked better. Maybe it the gameplay took a more similar
form to something like the Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter games, it would have been
more successful. But those games wouldn’t get here for another
console generation. The point is that Earthworm Jim was too little,
too late. By 1999 we already had games like Super Mario
64, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Gex, Croc, Banjo-Kazooie and tons of other, more successful attempts
at a game like this. Even the Earthworm Jim cartoon series was
already done for a few years at this point. So ultimately nobody cared and Earthworm Jim
sadly faded away, never to return again. Save for a remake in 2010, nothing new has
since been released. In a world where we’ve actually gotten a
brand new Bubsy game, this really makes me sad. Someone please bring Jim back!


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